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Enclosing an area of more than 5 hectares (the size of 7 football pitches), Caerau Hillfort, is by far the largest Iron Age hillfort in south Glamorgan. It occupies the western tip of an extensive ridge of land that is now cut through by the West Cardiff M4 link road (A4232), and it is surrounded on three sides by the housing estates of the west Cardiff suburbs of Caerau and Ely. The ramparts of the hillfort are hidden beneath woodland, a fact that means many people, even those living in the shadow of the great monument, don’t even realise it is there. The interior of the hillfort is now largely pasture, but in its north-east corner is a medieval ringwork castle adjacent to a 13th century church and graveyard – St Mary’s.

Despite being the largest and one of the most important prehistoric sites in southeast Wales, the hillfort at Caerau had laregly been overlooked by archaeologists so little was known about who lived there, how long it was occupied or even what it was used for. However, recent excavations by the CAER Heritage Project have begun to provide some details about when it was built and the people who lived there.

Most Iron Age people lived in small open settlements next to their fields, but some lived in large settlements like the hillfort at Caerau, which were enclosed by huge banks and ditches. However, these ramparts did not just reflect military might. The construction of boundary earthworks relates to the status, prestige and identity of the community that built them, rather than merely functioning as a defensive circuit. The greatest of them, such as at Caerau, were vast in scale and unprecedented in the effort invested to create them.

The recent excavations have shown that Caerau hillfort was probably constructed about 600BC and continued to be occupied, although not continuously into the Roman period. It would have been home to a substantial and powerful community of perhaps 3-400 people living in timber-built roundhouses – at least five have been revealed through the recent archaeological digs. Animal bones found during those excavations have shown the occupants kept sheep, cattle, pigs and horses and hunted red deer. They also grew wheat and barley in fields surrounding the site and manufactured metal tools and weapons on the site.

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